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Biosphere Reserves / Regions

Author: Debby Thomson- Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region

( Article Type: Explanation )

A Biosphere reserve is an area that has been designated by the UNESCO (United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to demonstrate innovative approaches to living and working in harmony with nature. Designation by UNESCO is considered and awarded after the completion of a lengthy process that involves partnership activities between private parties and governmental departments.
The final document is signed by various governmental departments at provincial and national level as well as the Minister of Environmental Affairs which is then sent to Paris as an official South African Document.
The term “reserve” does not mean that these places are set aside from human use and development. Human activity and the health of people and communities are, an integral part of the biosphere programme. Due to the historically negative connotations of the term “reserve” seen by many people including rural communities (i.e. normally indicating exclusion, exclusivity & extreme unshared wealth, together with the general conception that a reserve indicates a single fenced-in area), Some Biosphere’s such as the Kruger to Canyons in Limpopo have opted to exchange the word “reserve” for “region” and thus call themselves the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region. This allows for a better understanding of the concept that does not create exclusion or exclusivity of any kind, but rather creates partnerships and cooperation between historically opposed stakeholders. Additionally, the UNESCO label does not bring with it any new authorities over land, water or resources.
The existing powers, rights and responsibilities of governments, businesses and landowners normally remains unchanged. Taken together then, the words Biosphere Reserve/ Region highlight a special area within the country, where the people have made a commitment to work together for a sustainable future.

Geographically, there are 3 main components to a Biosphere Region and these components will largely influence the shape and size of the proposed Biosphere.These components are known as “zones” of which there has to be 3 distinct classifications in each biosphere.
• The first is known as the “Core Zone” and consists of one or more protected areas, such as a national or provincial park, or other protected area. The Core Zone acts as a reference point on the natural state of the ecosystem(s) that the biosphere represents.
• The second is the “Buffer Zone” and this refers to areas surrounding or adjacent to the Core Zone, this area is managed in ways that support the conservation objectives of the Core.
• The third is the Transition Zone or “the area of cooperation”. This is usually the largest part of the biosphere reserve/ region and surrounds the Core and Buffer areas, this is where most of the residents live and work using natural resources in a sustainable manner. There are many activities which occur within a Biosphere Region which fall under one of the 3 listed functions within a Biosphere including:
• Contribution to Conservation of biodiversity, landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variations;
• Fostering Sustainable Development (development that is socially culturally, economically and ecologically sustainable);
• Logistics, which refers to the building of local capacity for research, monitoring, education and training activities related to the promotion of conservation and sustainable development. Benefits to the communities living within a Biosphere Region include:
• Help to assure the ecological and economic sustainability of their region;
• Expansion of their local capacity to direct their region’s future;
• Develop a common vision, increasing communication and cooperation among seemingly disparate groups;
• Gain access to information, expertise and support through national and international networks, and
• Increase national and international recognition of their community as a good place to live, work and visit. Partnerships created within the Biosphere and the Biosphere administration unit benefit from participating in and supporting biosphere reserve activities. Examples include:
• Businesses can increase the efficiency and sustainability of their operations;
• Government and non-government organizations may implement pilot projects for rural and economic development and other areas of interest;
• Academic institutions may achieve research and teaching goals;
• First Nations may address cultural, social and development issues for their people;
• Poverty alleviation and basic services needs may be tackled and possibly overcome in developing countries. The UNESCO Biosphere initiative had its beginnings in 1968, when scientists, government and non-government representatives from around the world gathered in Paris to discuss ways of protecting the biosphere from the increasing impacts of human activities. As a result, UNESCO set up the Man and the Biosphere (MaB) Programme to test innovative solutions to human impact in a variety of ecosystems. In 1976, participating countries agreed to designate permanent sites for MaB research. These sites became the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which now represents more than 490 UNESCO-designated biosphere reserves in over 100 countries. The network provides for an exchange of information and ideas among the biosphere reserves, which undertake projects that demonstrate practical approaches to conservation and sustainable development.

South Africa currently has 5 officially registered Biosphere Reserves, including the Koegelberg and the Cape West Coast in the Western Cape province, the Waterberg, the Kruger to Canyons and the Vhembe Biospheres in Limpopo Province. The Magaliesberg region in Gauteng Province is in the mid stages of proposing and initiating the Magaliesberg Biosphere Region.
UNESCO-designated Biospheres are a pragmatic tool to use to promote sustainable development and to tackle the many debilitating issues dealt with in South Africa (such as poverty alleviation and supplying of basic services) in a sustainable and ecological manner. It is also an excellent tool to encourage private and governmental partnerships and cooperative successes.